It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario than the one left behind by former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The draconian regulatory proposals were Mnuchin’s own personal vendetta, according to Bitcoin veterans like Square Crypto developer Matt Corallo and Coin Center director Jerry Brito, and it’s too soon to say whether incoming Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will approve the proposed know-your-customer standards or reject them.
Given the chaos created by the Trump administration, bitcoin fans are anxiously optimistic about how regulators will approach the cryptocurrency space during President Joe Biden’s administration.
“Mnuchin at the very end had an alarmist view about the illicit use of cryptocurrency that wasn’t shared by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It doesn’t seem that Janet Yellen has that same view,” Brito said. “Her view seems to be very standard.”
Namely, Yellen believes there are both positive and negative ways to use cryptocurrency. She’s expressed a desire to strengthen regulations that prevent illicit usage like terror financing. She may set the tone for government bodies like the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
“The SEC, OCC and CFTC are choosing people that are very crypto knowledgeable,” Brito added. “That could tell you they are getting deep knowledge to regulate it heavily or, more likely, it’s now seen as an important part of the economy and finance.”
Although it’s still early in the transition, it appears the Biden administration will nominate former Ripple advisor and former U.S. Treasury Department official Michael Barr to head the OCC. In the short term, Trump’s SEC appointee, Commissioner Hester Pierce, will continue her notoriously crypto-friendly approach to the securities market. But the Biden administration is reportedly considering former CFTC chairman Gary Gensler to soon lead the SEC.
“The new SEC Chairman Gary Gensler has been pretty outspoken with his views on Facebook’s project Libra, as well as Ripple. It’s his opinion that those are securities and should be regulated by the SEC,” said attorney Hailey Lennon, a crypto-focused partner at Anderson Kill law firm. “In the next year or two, I hope some of the litigation we are seeing and new leadership in the SEC, will result in greater clarity so that down the road there are less enforcement actions. Clarity will help companies to know what to avoid.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reported the White House is expected to nominate Georgetown University professor Chris Brummer to lead the CFTC. Brummer was previously President Obama’s pick, but never got confirmed by the Senate due to political gridlocks. It’s still unclear who will be nominated in 2021 for key roles related to curbing terror financing, such as the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
“I think we might start seeing more regulation coming from FinCEN and OFAC. There have been some settlements with crypto companies and OFAC has been adding wallet addresses to the SDN [sanctions] list,” Lennon said. “Even if we see more positive things coming from the OCC, SEC and CFTC, it will be balanced a bit with more regulations related to know-your-customer and anti-money laundering, more general supervision of the source of funds and sanctions screening.”
Sanctions are the hot topic of 2021. Throughout 2020, the Iranian government published statements indicating it intends to use cryptocurrency, including bitcoin but not limited to it, to circumnavigate banking sanctions. Emigres from Iran and other countries have used bitcoin to do exactly this.
So far, the Biden administration hasn’t offered any indication it might lift sanctions. To the contrary, on February 18, the Treasury published a statement that the payment processor BitPay was penalized for allowing users to transact with citizens in sanctions jurisdictions like Iran, Cuba and Ukraine. Regulators’ approach to cryptocurrency, which many Iranian-Americans also use both internationally and domestically, will reflect whether the White House prefers a hawkish or dovish approach to diplomacy in the Middle East.
Perianne Boring, founder of an advocacy group called the Chamber of Digital Commerce, said “the new administration and leadership have signaled a critical perspective” of the broader cryptocurrency space. As such, Boring said she hopes industry leaders will continue to engage with lawmakers to “lay the foundation for America’s leadership role” in global crypto markets.
She said American crypto startups are competing in global arenas, against startups based in nations with more progressive laws as nations strive to foster the “next Silicon Valley.” Other nations are encouraging crypto companies, especially domestic crypto mining industries. Many technologists believe it behooves American leaders to defend dollar dominance by cultivating innovation in this tech sector. After all, many of the leading stablecoins are still denominated in American dollars.
“The Biden-Harris administration and Congress must make clear that addressing digital asset and blockchain policies are a priority,” Boring said. “The Biden-Harris administration should be focused now on growing the economy back to full employment and robust quarterly and annual economic growth.”
Brito said he’s especially curious to see new appointees for OFAC and FinCEN, since they’ll be Yellen’s right and left hand in her approach to sanctions and regulations. He agreed with Lennon and Boring, all of whom believe new legal norms are in the pipeline. However stringent, or pro-business, the coming verdicts may be, at least Biden has yet to rage tweet about hating bitcoin, the way Trump did.
“It’s still that period where everyone is getting their sea legs and trying to understand what their priorities are,” Brito said of the Biden administration. “Once they start either putting forth policy or reacting to the things that happen, that’s when we’ll really know where they stand.”
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Daily Crunch: Apple Arcade expands with classic games
Apple adds classic titles to Apple Arcade, Microsoft experiences an outage and Coinbase is going public. This is your Daily Crunch for April 2, 2021.
The big story: Apple Arcade expands with classic games
Until now, Apple’s game subscription service was limited to exclusive new titles, but today it’s introducing two new categories: App Store Greats (popular iPhone games like Monument Valley+, Fruit Ninja Classic+, Cut the Rope Remastered and Badland+) and Timeless Classics (board games and puzzle games, such as Backgammon+ and Chess Play and Learn+).
This is a major expansion to the Apple Arcade back catalog, but it’s not simply a matter of putting previously free games behind a paywall. The Arcade versions of these titles will be ad-free and without in-app purchases — you’re never paying anything beyond the $4.99 monthly subscription fee. Also, some of these games had become unavailable in their original forms due to iOS and hardware updates.
The tech giants
Microsoft outage knocks sites and services offline — Microsoft stumbled back online Thursday after an hours-long outage in the middle of the U.S. west coast working afternoon.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Coinbase to direct list on April 14th, provide financial update on April 6th — The company will trade under the ticker symbol “COIN.”
Uruguayan payments startup dLocal quadruples valuation to $5B with $150M raise — This means that the five-year-old Uruguayan company has effectively quadrupled its valuation in a matter of months.
Backflip offers an easier way to turn used electronics into cold, hard cash — The company offers customers cash on delivery for their used electronics, which could be anything from iPhones to Game Boys.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
How is edtech spending its extra capital? — Edtech M&A activity has continued to swell.
Tech in Mexico: A confluence of Latin America, the US and Asia — LatAm entrepreneurs seem to be looking to Asian tech giants for product inspiration and growth strategies.
RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift — Robotic process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)
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Three ways VC firms can construct sustainably diverse portfolios
Venture capital has a diversity problem: Data show that Black and Latinx founders received just 2.6% of overall funding in 2020. Women-founded teams received nearly 30% less funding in 2020 than they did in 2019.
For decades, a close-knit community of brilliant but like-minded individuals built a system of pattern recognition. It produced high-growth companies with homogenous leadership teams. They called it meritocracy. Those of us who didn’t fit the profile were told, or were left to assume, that we didn’t have what it takes.
When a founder needs funding but investors don’t think they “have what it takes,” it can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. No matter how good you are and how much product-market fit you achieve, at some point “what it takes” to scale a company is money.
Until recently, the lack of diversity in the ecosystem was largely an issue to those of us directly affected by it. It wasn’t until the groundbreaking #metoo and #BlackLivesMatter movements that the lack of funding for women and minorities became both evident — and evidently problematic — to the rest of the world.
I believe that underrepresented founders are the most undervalued asset class in the U.S. today, and investors are starting to realize that diversity is not charity — it’s economic opportunity.
Just look at the data on women-founded startups, which deliver 63% higher ROI (according to First Round Capital), generate twice as much revenue for every dollar invested (according to BCG), and take one full year less time to exit (according to PitchBook & AllRaise). Founders that have it harder, but persevere, lead to stronger companies with outsized results for their investors.
The good news is that recent events jolted many into action. A flurry of pledges, micro-funds and quick investments in support of Black founders arrived in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer. Overnight, these founders were heavily courted for meetings and speaking opportunities from people and firms they didn’t have access to in the past. Some secured investments and built new relationships that will help down the line. For many, the timing was off, and they didn’t benefit materially. In the end, the frenzy quieted down, and only 3% of 2020 VC deal volume went to Black-founded companies.
Ashlee Wisdom, the co-founder and CEO of digital health platform Health in Her HUE, experienced this firsthand.
“Last summer I was overwhelmed with inbounds from investors, which felt great at first,” she said. “But I was new to venture; I didn’t know how to build a strategy around fundraising, and most of those investors were looking for companies at a later stage than mine. No one I spoke to during that time seemed to be willing to invest in my pre-seed round despite our demonstrated traction. On the positive side, I met a lot of great investors who made meaningful introductions to pre-seed and early-stage funds. And some of those later-stage investors are now watching Health In Her HUE’s progress.”
It’s too soon to tell how sustainable the progress made last year will be. But we do have evidence from prior times that small, cosmetic efforts at diversity do not result in lasting change. Just take a look at what’s happened to VC funding for women recently.
In the aftermath of #metoo, investors and corporations were also spurred to act, with some success. For a while, VC investments in women-founded companies increased slowly but steadily. But once COVID hit, and investors retreated to their closest and most trusted referral networks, VC funding for women took a huge step backward. Crunchbase data show more than 800 female-founded startups globally received a total of $4.9 billion in venture funding in 2020, through mid-December, representing a 27% decrease over the same period the prior year.
The lesson is this: Efforts at the periphery of venture capital do not make a difference in the long run. The good news is many have started taking action. To achieve systemic, long-term improvements, VC firms will need to make changes to their core system, building diversity into the primary investing process itself. Results will not be visible immediately, but they will be far more sustainable and, as the data suggest, more profitable over the lifetime of these funds. Here are three specific actions VC firms can take to achieve this:
1. Hire BIPOC and women investors
A recent PitchBook report notes that female investors are twice as likely to invest in companies with female founders and three times as likely in companies with female CEOs. And yet fewer than 10% of all VC partners are women. According to BLCK VC, more than 80% of venture firms don’t have a single Black investor on their team. That makes it less surprising that only 1 percent of venture-funded startup founders are Black.
When you hire from the same communities you want to invest in, and ensure your new hires are set up for success, you unlock dealflow, relationships, and insights into new markets and customer sets. This results in a more diverse portfolio and a stronger investment team, one that serves its entire portfolio of companies better.
2. Measure the top of your funnel
Inputs lead to outputs. VC firms should do everything they can to foster stronger relationships with underrepresented founder communities to enable more diversity at the top of the deal flow funnel.
Partner, sponsor and invest in organizations like Female Founders Alliance, SoGal Foundation, Black Women Talk Tech and more. Go out of your way to attend events, ask for introductions, schedule casual coffee meetings and meet as many founders in those networks as you can — and foster those relationships meaningfully over time. This is how you seed decades of great dealflow.
3. Invest directly in emerging fund managers
There are hundreds of new funds, many of them with less than $50 million in assets under management, with direct access to pockets of talent that you are not currently seeing. These general partners have trusting, authentic relationships with founders who might be wary of mainstream VC. If you are a larger VC fund, you should be actively investing in them. Emerging managers can act as your scouts, and, in return, you will help build the ecosystem itself.
I believe that the lack of diversity in venture capital is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for those willing to make the earliest bets. If we invest in women at the same rate that we invest in men, this could boost the global economy by up to $5 trillion. That is a huge amount of return up for grabs. A homogenous portfolio misses that opportunity.
Most investors I know are aware of the opportunity and genuinely want to do better. The more urgency they feel, the more likely they are to spin up independent initiatives to address inequities directly. While these can be helpful, they’re also not sustainable. The best way to build a sustainably diverse portfolio is to do the slow, hard work of change from the inside out.
Hack takes: A CISO and a hacker detail how they’d respond to the Exchange breach
The cyber world has entered a new era in which attacks are becoming more frequent and happening on a larger scale than ever before. Massive hacks affecting thousands of high-level American companies and agencies have dominated the news recently. Chief among these are the December SolarWinds/FireEye breach and the more recent Microsoft Exchange server breach. Everyone wants to know: If you’ve been hit with the Exchange breach, what should you do?
To answer this question, and compare security philosophies, we outlined what we’d do — side by side. One of us is a career attacker (David Wolpoff), and the other a CISO with experience securing companies in the healthcare and security spaces (Aaron Fosdick).
Don’t wait for your incident response team to take the brunt of a cyberattack on your organization.
CISO Aaron Fosdick
1. Back up your system.
A hacker’s likely going to throw some ransomware attacks at you after breaking into your mail server. So rely on your backups, configurations, etc. Back up everything you can. But back up to an instance before the breach. Design your backups with the assumption that an attacker will try to delete them. Don’t use your normal admin credentials to encrypt your backups, and make sure your admin accounts can’t delete or modify backups once they’ve been created. Your backup target should not be part of your domain.
2. Assume compromise and stop connectivity if necessary.
Identify if and where you have been compromised. Inspect your systems forensically to see if any systems are using your surface as a launch point and attempting to move laterally from there. If your Exchange server is indeed compromised, you want it off your network as soon as possible. Disable external connectivity to the internet to ensure they cannot exfiltrate any data or communicate with other systems in the network, which is how attackers move laterally.
3. Consider deploying default/deny.
RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift
When UIPath filed its S-1 last week, it was a watershed moment for the robotic process automation (RPA) market. The company, which first appeared on our radar for a $30 million Series A in 2017, has so far raised an astonishing $2 billion while still private. In February, it was valued at $35 billion when it raised $750 million in its latest round.
RPA and process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.
RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.
When UIPath raised money in 2017, RPA was not well known in enterprise software circles even though it had already been around for several years. The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.
RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation, a taste of the modern. It essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of just about every industry’s workflow.
While some people point to RPA as job-elimination software, it also provides a way to liberate people from some of the most mind-numbing and mundane chores in the organization. The argument goes that this frees up employees for higher level tasks.
As an example, RPA could take advantage of older workflow technologies like OCR (optical character recognition) to read a number from a form, enter the data in a spreadsheet, generate an invoice, send it for printing and mailing, and generate a Slack message to the accounting department that the task has been completed.
We’re going to take a deep dive into RPA and the larger process automation space — explore the market size and dynamics, look at the key players and the biggest investors, and finally, try to chart out where this market might go in the future.
Meet the vendors
UIPath is clearly an RPA star with a significant market share lead of 27.1%, according to IDC. Automation Anywhere is in second place with 19.4%, and Blue Prism is third with 10.3%, based on data from IDC’s July 2020 report, the last time the firm reported on the market.
Two other players with significant market share worth mentioning are WorkFusion with 6.8%, and NTT with 5%.
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